1. New England Patriots (10-0) Def. Buffalo 20-13. Previously: 1.
The Patriots have endured two of their closest victories the past two weeks, but those victories leave them five clear at the top of their division with six games left. They did struggle to run the ball with LeGarrette Blount for much of the game in Dion Lewis' absence, but James White emerged as Belichick's newest offensive toy and scored both Patriots touchdowns, the first two of his NFL career.
2. Carolina Panthers (10-0) Def. Washington 44-16. Previously: 2
Have the Panthers and the Patriots switched winning methods? Passing offenses? Suddenly it's New England that can barely find wide receivers to put on the field and Carolina who have five different players catching touchdown throws from Cam Newton. Let's rank them both No. 1 and give Newton and Tom Brady MVPs.
3. Arizona Cardinals (8-2) Def. Cincinnati 34-31. Previously: 3
The Bengals secondary was banged up and Carson Palmer, in the middle of the best season of his career, took full advantage against his former team. Firmly the best of the teams with defeats at the moment, Arizona will have a chance to further that status before the end of the season, when Minnesota and Green Bay come to town.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2) Lost to Arizona 34-31. Previously: 4
Sure, it's two losses in a row, but don't write off the Bengals just yet. A stupid penalty in an away game loss sure sounds like an appropriate difference between the number three and four teams. Andy Dalton responded nicely coming off his worst game of the season in the Bengals first loss last Monday night to Houston. Suddenly however, that two game lead over Pittsburgh doesn't look as safe.
5. Denver Broncos (8-2) Def. Chicago 17-15. Previously: 7
This was an encouraging performance following the very discouraging performance last week. Regardless of Peyton's health going forward, Denver appears to have a quarterback, in Brock Osweiler, who can at least manage a game while this defense wins it. That very realistically may be all they need.
6. Green Bay Packers (7-3) Def. Minnesota 30-13. Previously: 8
The Green Bay running game finally surfaced at the most opportune moment. Facing falling two games behind the upstart Vikings in the divisional race, the Packers responded in force by righting their ship after three straight losses. Eddie Lacy tallied exactly 100 yards for his first 100-yard-game of the season, after posting 78 combined rushing yards in his past four games. If the Packers can replicate this balance going forward, they become a much more dangerous team.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) Bye. Previously: 6
Not a bad bye week, watching Cincinnati lose once more and fall within two games. There's no room for Pittsburgh to focus on Week 14's rematch in Cincy however, not with games against Seattle and Indianapolis before then.
8. Minnesota Vikings (7-3) Lost to Green Bay 30-13. Previously: 5
The game was closer than the score, but it was Adrian Peterson's sixth fumble of the season that gave the game away even as he became the first back in the NFL with 1,000 yards this season. Teddy Bridgewater was pursued mercilessly and sacked six times by the Packers. The line needs to play better. The Vikings aren't built to chase games from behind. They're 7-0 when Peterson has at least 19 carries and 0-3 when he doesn't.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5) Def. San Diego 33-3. Previously: 9
The Chiefs continue to emerge as the hottest team in the AFC wild card race, blasting San Diego for their fourth straight victory. In those four victories the defense has allowed exactly 39 points. Don't forget three of their losses were by a score or less as well.
10. Buffalo Bills (5-5) Lost to New England 20-13. Previously: 10
LeSean McCoy has become the clear focus of the offense, and had his first 20 carry game as a Bill. This was a strong performance by a team that isn't on the same level as New England, but is in the thick of the AFC wild card race. With games remaining against the Chiefs, Texans, and Jets, they'll have a big hand to play in the way that race shapes up.
11. Indianapolis Colts (5-5) Def. Atlanta 24-21. Previously: 12
Matt Hasselbeck is 3-0 as the Colts starter this season. Andrew Luck is potentially eyeing a mid-December return, but let's just say the Colts continue to win until then, making Hasselbeck 6-0 and Luck 2-5. Is it even a question? It's been anything but the expected season for Luck, but any scenario where a healthy Luck isn't on the field for the Colts is still hard to imagine.
12. Seattle Seahawks (5-5) Def. San Francisco 29-13. Previously: 14
Seattle continues to A) Beat bad teams, and B) Beat San Francisco, newly one and the same. Thomas Rawls' 209 yard gashing of the Niners was his third 100-yard-game this season, and two more than Marshawn Lynch has. Rawls has 200 more yards than Lynch this year, and is averaging 2.2 yards more per carry.
13. Houston Texans (5-5) Def. New York Jets 24-17. Previously: 19
The Texans' game of musical chairs at quarterback will continue Bill O'Brien says, when Brian Hoyer is healthy enough to play again. And it probably should, T.J. Yates is 2-0, but Hoyer was playing fine before he got hurt, and the Texans sure paid the price the last time they went away from him too early.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) Def. Philadelphia 45-17. Previously: 23
Two wins in a row for the first time in two seasons, and Tampa Bay is definitely heading in the right direction. Jameis Winston just became the second rookie ever to throw five touchdown passes in a single game, and at one point Doug Martin had set a new record for rushing yards against the Eagles, before being tackled for a loss and finishing with 235, two yards shy of Emmitt Smith's old mark at 237.
15. New York Giants (5-5) Bye. Previously: 17
It's a toss-up who New York must be most worried about as the threat to their NFC East lead. Washington, who they face this week? Philadelphia, who they get the last week of the year? Dallas, who they have finished playing and can do nothing but watch while Romo attempts to rack up the wins?
16. New York Jets (5-5) Lost to Houston 24-17. Previously: 11
Two straight losses and 1-4 in their last five games aren't great signs for the Jets, especially when three of those losses have come to Houston, Buffalo, and Oakland, three of their chief rivals for a wild card spot. And that uh, lone victory? It's over the, uh, Jaguars.
17. Chicago Bears (4-6) Lost to Denver 17-15. Previously: 13
This blurb could have been positioned higher up and all about yet another fourth quarter Bears drive, but then they had to run Jeremy Langford up the gut again for the two point conversion, a strategy that had worked so well Sunday he gained 25 yards on 13 carries and finished as the Bears' third leading rusher.
18. Atlanta Falcons (6-4) Lost to Indianapolis 24-21. Previously: 15
If Atlanta could just start winning again their record would make them a tempting team to fill up that dragging bottom of our top ten. But they can't. They're 1-4 in their last five, and Matt Ryan has eight interceptions over their last six games. All the blame can't fall there however, the Falcons lost even when he completed 82 percent of his passes for 397 yards against Tampa. Now Devonta Freeman, the teams' revelation, is concussed.
19. Oakland Raiders (4-6) Lost to Detroit 18-13. Previously: 16
Make it three straight defeats for the Raiders, the latest because of their inability to muster any offense through the air against a Lions secondary they should have had their way with. Amari Cooper finished the worst game of his rookie season with one catch for four yards. It didn't get better on the ground, where they averaged 2.4 yards per carry.
20. Dallas Cowboys (3-7) Def. Miami 24-14. Previously: 29
There may be a little bit of anticipation in this bump up, but this is a ranking of Dallas with Tony Romo at the helm. And with that, the Cowboys did something they haven't done since Week 2: win. He wasn't perfect in his first game back, but he got better as it went, and more importantly, avoided re-injuring his collarbone. Dallas is 3-0 with Tony.
21. Washington (4-6) Lost to Carolina 44-16. Previously: 18
Even with Kirk Cousins toasting the Saints last week, let's not pretend we expected Washington on the road in Carolina to go any differently than it did. Washington's awful awful no good very bad run game had its worst day yet, with 14 yards on 12 carries. A performance you might think the NFL's worst if you hadn't caught the Eagles seven-yard effort in Week 2.
22. New Orleans Saints (4-6) Bye. Previously: 24
The post-Rob Ryan defense gets one warm up game against the Texans before Carolina comes to town in Week 13. If things aren't fixed by then, that game could be a lot uglier than Week 2's 27-22 defeat.
23. Miami Dolphins (4-6) Lost to Dallas 24-14. Previously: 20
Tack three sacks for 48 lost yards on and Miami finished with 210 yards of offense Sunday. In last week's victory over Philadelphia they put up just 289. Compare that to Tampa Bay's 521 against the Eagles this week, and the problem in Miami doesn't look like it's the tough defenses they're facing.
24. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) Lost to Tampa Bay 45-17. Previously: 21
With a game Thursday against Detroit, Philadelphia doesn't have much time to get over the worst loss of the Chip Kelly era. Multiple times this season, after victories over the Jets, Saints, and Cowboys, we've thought the Eagles might be close to turning a corner, harnessing their talent and becoming the team the pre-season advertised. The team on display in this loss wasn't the real Eagles. But that pre-season team? That's not them either.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) Def. Tennessee 19-13. Previously: 26
During Thursday night's field goal-fest Jacksonville continued to establish itself as the best of the NFL's really bad teams. They also continued to establish that when they win, it's because they balance the offense with the run game and play solid defense, not because Blake Bortles throws for as many yards as he can.
26. Baltimore Ravens (3-7) Def. St. Louis 16-13. Previously: 27
This is just not Baltimore's season. It's like Pittsburgh's season, but without the wins. It was a heroic effort from Joe Flacco to get them their third after his own lineman fell on him during the final drive, tearing his ACL and MCL. Flacco: done for the year, Justin Forsett: done for the year, Baltimore: done for the year.
27. Detroit Lions (3-7) Def. Oakland 18-13. Previously: 28
Two straight wins for the Lions, maybe there's something to this owner pep talk thing. On a short week, Detroit now gets the Eagles fresh off their humiliating loss to Tampa Bay where they allowed Jameis Winston five touchdown passes. The only other rookie in NFL history to do that? Matthew Stafford. Can they make it three straight?
28. St. Louis Rams (4-6) Lost to Baltimore 16-13. Previously: 22
The NFL may be investigating, but could St. Louis really have left Case Keenum in the game with a concussion because they were so desperate for more of the 136 yard passing attack on display all day Sunday? Todd Gurley averaged 2.6 yards per carry; the offense can't do anything, and the defense just allowed a quarterback with a torn ACL to go down the field and beat them.
29. San Francisco 49ers (3-7) Lost to Seattle 29-13. Previously: 25
We couldn't keep the undefeated Blaine Gabbert train rolling in his second start, but he did play well against Seattle. Not well enough to win, with the anemic San Fran rush game gaining just 59 yards, 22 of them from Gabbert. But well enough for the 49ers shutting down Colin Kaepernick for the year to be received with a shrug.
30. Tennessee Titans (2-8) Lost to Jacksonville 19-13. Previously: 30
The Titans have surpassed 14 points three times this season, and just once since week three. Looking back at their opening day blasting of Tampa Bay, it's quite surprising to see the two directions the teams have gone in since then. One will be back at the top of round one, and one won't.
31. Cleveland Browns (2-8) Bye. Previously: 32
The Browns rose up the rankings this week by being on bye, with the now Flacco-less Ravens on the schedule next week, maybe they can do it again by winning and completing a season sweep of the former Cleveland Browns franchise, something they haven't done since 2007, when they went 10-6.
32. San Diego Chargers (2-8) Lost to Kansas City 33-3. Previously: 31
When was the last time we saw a 2-8 team with a quarterback with these stats: 3,211 yards, 19 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 98.2 QB rating? It's mind boggling.